Then there were two. After 30 matches at the first UEFA European Under-17 Championship final tournament since 2002 to feature 16 nations, Germany face France for the title on Friday in Burgas – and all indications point to it being a tight affair.
Both undefeated teams have won four times and drawn once in Bulgaria, while both survived a penalty shoot-out en route to the decider at Lazur Stadium. France have scored 11 goals and conceded just one – a header by Belgium's Rubin Seigers in a semi-final settled on spot kicks – whereas Germany have kept five clean sheets in as many outings.
As such, it is difficult to argue with Germany coach Christian Wück's assertion that the "best two teams are in the final". However, with the blustery conditions of the last 24 to 36 hours continuing to prevail on Bulgaria's southern Black Sea coast, it is open to debate as to who has the wind in their sails.
"France are a tough side," Wück told UEFA.com. "We played them a year ago [winning 4-1] – it was very difficult, and their development since then has been great. They have a lot of strong, fast players, so we have to have a good day to get the victory. It's a pleasure for us to be in the final, it will be a great experience to face France. It's so important for the players, at 16 and 17 years of age, to be part of such a big game. For their development it's vital."
While Germany captain Felix Passlack is "a little bit nervous", France coach Jean-Claude Giuntini has no concerns over how his charges will handle the biggest sporting occasion of their lives. "My players are calm, like they were before our other matches," he said. "They are focused and have recovered from their efforts against Belgium, when we were disappointed not to score more [France had 20 attempts on goal] and to let one in."
Passlack billed the fixture as the "best attack against the best defence". Appearing in the final has special significance for the energetic Borussia Dortmund midfielder – six years ago his "role model" Mario Götze was Germany's attacking fulcrum in their only previous final triumph at this level, a 2-1 extra-time defeat of the Netherlands before a competition record crowd of 24,000 in Magdeburg. "I'll be very proud of the guys, my brothers, when I walk on to the pitch," he said. "We will give everything to win. We are like one big family."
France's preparations for their fourth U17 final – they won on home soil in 2004 but lost to Switzerland in 2002 and against Spain in 2008 – have been boosted by good luck messages from Patrice Evra and U17 alumni Karim Benzema and Paul Pogba. "We're happy to be here," said Passlack's opposite number, Timothé Cognat. "We hope to do the same as 11 years ago, but every match and every competition is different. We have to view it as a normal game. We shouldn't put pressure on ourselves."
Germany have featured in two of the last four showpieces, succumbing to the Netherlands in 2011 and 2012. Whatever the result on Friday, Wück will leave Bulgaria with an immense feeling of satisfaction. "I'm very proud to be a part of things – not only of the players but the team behind the team, who are very good," he explained. "There are so many professionals, so many experts."
©UEFA.com 1998-2011. All rights reserved.